DePaul University Teaching Commons > Teaching Guides > How Students Learn > Motivating Students

Motivating Students

Most instructors have, at some point or another, felt their enthusiasm for class deflate, if only momentarily. Teaching becomes challenging when faced with students who are visibly disengaged, routinely unprepared, or seemingly interested in one question alone: "Will this be on the final?"

Research on motivation and learning suggests that students are motivated to learn when:

  • They value what they are learning,
  • They expect to succeed,
  • They have some choice in or control over the task, and 
  • The cost of failure is low. (Svinicki, 2004)

Instructors can use these research findings to motivate students by:

  • Administering frequent low-stakes opportunities to practice skills.
  • Offering early and regular feedback on student performance.
  • Explaining the value of the course or of individual assignments.
    • How might the skills and knowledge required for each assignment relate to the course goals? To other courses? To life outside DePaul?
  • Connecting course material to their real world experiences.
  • Beginning a class by determining what students already know or believe about a topic.
  • Incorporating active learning strategies.

Further Resources

"Capturing and Directing the Motive to Learn". (1998). Speaking of Teaching: Stanford University Newsletter on Teaching. Stanford University.

Kirk, Karin. "Motivating Students." On the Cutting Edge: Strong Undergraduate Geoscience Teaching. National Association of Geology Teachers.

"Motivating Students." Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

Svinicki, Marilla D.  (2004). Learning and Motivation in the Postsecondary Classroom. Bolton, MA: Anker.

--. (2005). "Student Goal Orientation, Motivation and Learning." IDEA Paper #41. 


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